By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Tag: God’s will

Speaking God’s Truth

While it’s the day for Main Character Monday, I have something else on my mind tonight. I had a hard weekend that didn’t leave its struggles behind as the work week started. It’s left me tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spiritually, it has sent me to my knees in prayer more focused and dedicated than my usual daily prayers. It is in these kinds of trials that submitting to the unknown of “Your will be done” becomes a true act of surrender.

Even though the exact nature of this situation is completely new and totally unexpected, it isn’t the first time my world has been rocked by a trial so life changing that I almost can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it is in fact my reality now. It isn’t the first time I’ve waited for the other shoe to drop or been forced to face the fact that I don’t know what comes next and fully realize that I might not like it when it comes.

The first time I faced the complete undoing of my perceptions of what my life was and was supposed to be, it broke me in ways I never thought possible. Even as I immersed myself in prayer and God’s word, I struggled with frequent panic attacks and depression. Even though I saw God working in my life and felt His strength getting me through each day, I hurt more deeply than I ever thought possible. I grew closer to God and learned to rely on Him as never before. The road to get there wasn’t easy, but God didn’t leave me on my own. In fact, a Facebook thread in one of the reading groups I’m in reminded me tonight that not only was I not left on my own, God went above and beyond to speak to me during that time in a way that was unexpected and user friendly.

When circumstances became too much, I’d read. My brain didn’t have to fight through the depressed exhaustion I felt in order to read. When I was immersed in the story, I could finally contain the thoughts running amok in my head. It was the perfect way for me to decompress for a small period of time. Little did I know that as I picked up The Still of Night by Kristen Heitzmann, that God would use it to challenge me to change my perspective on the painful hand I’d been dealt.

I’ll admit I bawled reading that book. So many points hit home. The specifics of the fictional circumstances were far from mine, but the truths about faith and life and pain were all too real. One of the moments when things clicked with me was in a quote that has stuck with me for the last fifteen years. “Things don’t always work out the way we want. The trick is to want the way they work out.” It’s simple and profound. It summed up “Thy will be done” perfectly, and it was wrapped in a story so well written that I had to finish it even though it was speaking hard truths to me.

I’ve enjoyed many well-written Christian fiction books through the years. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by them. But none have felt as much like God had it written especially for me, to help me accept where I was and encourage me on the path to healing.

Even God’s timing was perfect. I get Kristen Heitzmann’s books as soon as I know they’ve come out. If The Still of Night had come out years before, its message might not have resonated as deeply. I hadn’t been broken yet. Years later, and I would have already come through enough that the message would have merely been a reminder of a lesson learned. This one came out only a few short months before my storm hit, and I purchased it just after. Because the author chose to let God use her, my walk of faith was strengthened at a time when I needed it most.

I share this with you for two reasons. The first is as a reminder that God may choose to speak to us in unconventional ways. Scripture is of utmost importance, but He will use people, songs, and even fictional stories to open our hearts to His truth. Don’t shut Him out just because His message isn’t coming from your pastor or the 66 books of the Bible. Listen and accept His encouragements and challenges as the loving gifts they are.

The other reason I share my story is as an encouragement to let God use you. I’ve always been passionate about writing. But reading good Christian fiction sparked a desire in me to do for others what my favorite authors have done for me. I want what I write to communicate God’s truth to other believers. I want the stories I write to encourage and challenge people in their faith.  It’s my desire to let God use my stories to touch others. If God uses Faith’s Journey or any future books I write to speak to even one person the way He spoke to me through The Still of Night, I will count that as success.

By the Book: Maybe you write. Maybe not. Do you sing? Draw? Speak? Make cookies? I don’t care what talent you have or what you’re passionate about. Let God use it to speak to others.

Speaking God's Truth

While it’s the day for Main Character Monday, I have something else on my mind tonight. I had a hard weekend that didn’t leave its struggles behind as the work week started. It’s left me tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spiritually, it has sent me to my knees in prayer more focused and dedicated than my usual daily prayers. It is in these kinds of trials that submitting to the unknown of “Your will be done” becomes a true act of surrender.
Even though the exact nature of this situation is completely new and totally unexpected, it isn’t the first time my world has been rocked by a trial so life changing that I almost can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it is in fact my reality now. It isn’t the first time I’ve waited for the other shoe to drop or been forced to face the fact that I don’t know what comes next and fully realize that I might not like it when it comes.
The first time I faced the complete undoing of my perceptions of what my life was and was supposed to be, it broke me in ways I never thought possible. Even as I immersed myself in prayer and God’s word, I struggled with frequent panic attacks and depression. Even though I saw God working in my life and felt His strength getting me through each day, I hurt more deeply than I ever thought possible. I grew closer to God and learned to rely on Him as never before. The road to get there wasn’t easy, but God didn’t leave me on my own. In fact, a Facebook thread in one of the reading groups I’m in reminded me tonight that not only was I not left on my own, God went above and beyond to speak to me during that time in a way that was unexpected and user friendly.
When circumstances became too much, I’d read. My brain didn’t have to fight through the depressed exhaustion I felt in order to read. When I was immersed in the story, I could finally contain the thoughts running amok in my head. It was the perfect way for me to decompress for a small period of time. Little did I know that as I picked up The Still of Night by Kristen Heitzmann, that God would use it to challenge me to change my perspective on the painful hand I’d been dealt.
I’ll admit I bawled reading that book. So many points hit home. The specifics of the fictional circumstances were far from mine, but the truths about faith and life and pain were all too real. One of the moments when things clicked with me was in a quote that has stuck with me for the last fifteen years. “Things don’t always work out the way we want. The trick is to want the way they work out.” It’s simple and profound. It summed up “Thy will be done” perfectly, and it was wrapped in a story so well written that I had to finish it even though it was speaking hard truths to me.
I’ve enjoyed many well-written Christian fiction books through the years. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by them. But none have felt as much like God had it written especially for me, to help me accept where I was and encourage me on the path to healing.
Even God’s timing was perfect. I get Kristen Heitzmann’s books as soon as I know they’ve come out. If The Still of Night had come out years before, its message might not have resonated as deeply. I hadn’t been broken yet. Years later, and I would have already come through enough that the message would have merely been a reminder of a lesson learned. This one came out only a few short months before my storm hit, and I purchased it just after. Because the author chose to let God use her, my walk of faith was strengthened at a time when I needed it most.
I share this with you for two reasons. The first is as a reminder that God may choose to speak to us in unconventional ways. Scripture is of utmost importance, but He will use people, songs, and even fictional stories to open our hearts to His truth. Don’t shut Him out just because His message isn’t coming from your pastor or the 66 books of the Bible. Listen and accept His encouragements and challenges as the loving gifts they are.
The other reason I share my story is as an encouragement to let God use you. I’ve always been passionate about writing. But reading good Christian fiction sparked a desire in me to do for others what my favorite authors have done for me. I want what I write to communicate God’s truth to other believers. I want the stories I write to encourage and challenge people in their faith.  It’s my desire to let God use my stories to touch others. If God uses Faith’s Journey or any future books I write to speak to even one person the way He spoke to me through The Still of Night, I will count that as success.
By the Book: Maybe you write. Maybe not. Do you sing? Draw? Speak? Make cookies? I don’t care what talent you have or what you’re passionate about. Let God use it to speak to others.

Looking for Direction

glassesToday was filled with the stress of making choices. It started with ordering new glasses. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Do you know how many choices there are? Metal frames or plastic? Type of lens? Scratch resistance? Anti-glare? Bi-focal or regular? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Those choices are easy, coming down to how much I want to pay. But choosing frames? That’s a different story.

I decided to go bold, at least for me. My frames are thin and non-descript, almost invisible. I wanted a change. So, instead of being in and out in minutes, I stood for over forty minutes in front of the displays taking awkward looking selfies in anything that didn’t make me immediately snarl and pull the frames from my face. Then, I sent the best ones (frames, not selfies, I’m horrible at taking selfies) to six trusted family members and friends for their feedback. Thank goodness they all pretty much agreed, with the exception of my daughter who tried to steer me in the direction of the boldest frame I had tried on. I assured her I wasn’t quite to that stage yet, and I went with the consensus.

I placed my order and went on with my day. Imagine my horror as I stood in the aisle of Wal-Mart looking at dry erase boards, realizing I faced another choice. The board I wanted came with the option of white, black, or wood trim. After another fifteen agonizing minutes, the wood framed one ended up in my cart. Two choices in an hour? I was exhausted.

Choices are hard sometimes. I tend to be laid back about most things, not really caring about what to have for dinner or what my husband and I should do on date night. But choosing the glasses I have to wear for the next several years or the dry erase board that will either bring together everything or look mismatched in the office I’ll set up once my oldest son moves out in five months? That’s a different story. I have to make the right decision or I might regret it. At least in the grand scheme of things the decisions I faced today are minor.  Anne Carty isn’t so lucky in Keeper of Coin by Mary Kay Tuberty.

Anne leaves her family in Ireland at her father’s insistence. As the most frugal daughter, John believes she is the best option for making the trip, finding employment, and sending for the rest of the children. Anne believes her older sister should make the trip first, but she bows to her father’s wishes out of respect for his authority. She arrives in America and makes her way to St. Louis where things don’t go exactly as planned. Her father has hired a man to oversee her funds and help arrange passage to her uncle in Oregon. Anne has reservations about the man’s integrity, but again, she defers to her father’s decision.

When plans go awry, Anne has to choose whether or not to stay in St. Louis or keep trying to reach Oregon. Anne likes her life in St. Louis. She has friends, an adopted family, and a man who is quickly winning her heart. But her loyalty is to the promise she made her father, and she pushes aside her desires to fulfill his wishes.

After her older sister joins her in St. Louis, both girls believe saving for the other children to join them will go quickly, allowing Anne to fulfill her promise and choose the life she desires. It isn’t to be. A thief steals the fare for the next child’s trip. Their uncle in Oregon is surprisingly silent on bringing them from St. Louis. And to top it off, their parents aren’t taking care with the money the girls work so hard to send due to famine conditions in Ireland. Though Anne receives wise advice from many encouraging her to consider that her father cannot know what’s best since he’s not in America and has no idea what life is like for her, she still chooses time and again to honor her pledge. It leaves her and those she loves wondering if she will ever feel free to choose the life and love she desires.

I can understand Anne’s struggle to honor her parents and still make choices that work with her new life. I wouldn’t want to face the same decisions. She could’ve used a neon sign directing her path. I know I’ve wished for one. I desire so much to make right choices, godly choices. Sometimes my paths are clear, but not always. I’m sure we’ve all been there. We wait for God to tell us clearly what to choose, but He doesn’t give us a burning bush or even an audible voice. What are we supposed to do? How are we to decide?

Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us a starting point. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  Trust. It is  a simple word with huge implications. Trust is when what we believe about God turns into action. Do we believe He has a plan for us? Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe He wants us to live inside His will? Do we believe God is a big enough, powerful enough to let us know if the choice we’re considering is definitely not in His plan for us? If so, then we can proceed. It may be that God’s plan can be accomplished in many ways, and the right thing for us to do may be to simply choose.

But what if it’s not? That’s where the rest of the verses come in. Lean not on your understanding. Don’t trust in yourself, that you know best. Turn to God. Go to Him. Know scripture to gain understanding of what is and isn’t inside God’s will. If your plan includes anything contrary to scripture, it can’t be what God wants. God doesn’t want any of us living in sin.

In all your ways acknowledge Him. Are you praying about your decision? Are you asking for His guidance and wanting in your heart to do things the way God wants them done? Are you remaining open to His leading, even if it is contrary to your desire? Do you end each prayer with the same desire that Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane? Not my will, but Your will be done.

He will direct your paths. It’s right there in the Bible. If you’re going in a way contrary to His plans for you, God will show you. If we do our part to seek His will and His way, He will direct us. It may not be as clearly spoken as the plan Moses received. But we will hear His quiet voice speaking to our spirit if we are going the right way. If we are open to His plans, He will close and open doors for us as we go. He will nudge us away from choices that would be detrimental. And He will work through our choices to accomplish His will when the specifics of those choices are left to us to decide. And if we make a choice God doesn’t want us to make? When I’ve seen my error and sought His forgiveness for going in a direction He told me not to go, my God is big enough to redeem even those choices and put me on the right path once again.

By the Book: If you’ve been struggling to make a choice, have you given it over to God? Do you trust Him? Are you open to seeking His will, His way? If so, listen for that small voice and look for the opened and closed doors.

Granny's Way

Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan was my great-grandmother, and she was a force to be reckoned with when you came alongside her stubborn streak. Growing up, Granny told me stories and taught me to embroider and quilt. I was the favored one who could go through her souvenir handkerchief collection and her jewelry box whenever I wanted. But when it came to cleaning, even I ran into her iron will.
While cleaning her living room, Granny insisted I was vacuuming her floor incorrectly. What she wanted would take twice as long, serving no real purpose. I told her this, but it did me no good. Granny insisted her way was the only way. So, I did the only reasonable thing. I waited until Granny left the room and completed the task the way I had started it. Of course, Granny never found out I failed to complete my task her way.
Maybe we’re all a little like Granny sometimes. I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to write. As I experienced more writers, my desire to write grew. I wanted to do for others what my favorite authors did for me. As I matured in my relationship with God, I knew He wanted me to use whatever ability I had along with my passion for writing to minister to others. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew, but I knew.
You’d think there would be freedom and maybe joy in finding out what God has for you. Instead, I knew frustration. I couldn’t see why God would clearly show me the path I was to take but not let me live it out. Sure, God used my writing in my home town ministries. He used it when I taught Sunday school and summer camp classes. He used it when I wrote lessons for our youth group. God never stopped using my writing, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it or in the time frame I wanted it to be in. I was as set in my ideas as my Granny.
At times, I questioned. Had I misheard? Did God have something else for me to do? And if so, why would He have given me this overwhelming desire to minister through writing? In these times, I gave my dream back to Him. God was faithful to give it back with encouragement to keep going. He reaffirmed my path every time. I kept learning and growing, both as a writer and a believer.
What I thought would happen in my early twenties is finally coming to be in my early forties. In thirteen days my first novel, Faith’s Journey, releases. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see God moving this dream to fruition. But it’s more than that. God has given me an extra gift. He’s shown me why this didn’t happen before.
As do most twenty year olds, I had the world figured out. I had felt what I thought was the deepest depths of pain. I’d lost people I loved. I’d had disappointments. But in reality, I had only been refined in the flames of a candle, maybe a campfire, the kind you roast marshmallows on. Hot? Yes, but nothing compared to the heat and destruction of a raging wildfire. Child’s play when placed side by side with the fire needed to refine metals like iron.
It wasn’t until my late twenties and into my thirties that I experienced this type of refining. All my childhood lessons of faith became more necessary to life than I’d ever thought possible. They weren’t unimportant before that time, but after, I realized how much I took faith for granted. I needed God in a more tangible, undeniable way.
This new understanding grew my faith. It provided a deeper understanding of what it means to live by faith. My refining had nothing to do with my writing, and they didn’t have to change it. But as I dealt with these experiences in my life, I was shown something that has impacted my writing. Through other believers, I came to understand that I can hoard the things God has done in my life or I can share them. In sharing the pains, lessons, and joys, others can benefit as I have benefited from those who came before me.
I had a choice. God wouldn’t force the issue, but His desire was clear. Use what I experienced to minister to others. This doesn’t mean every circumstance I write is something that happened to me. Every character is not someone from my life. My novel is fiction. The people and situations are products of my imagination. But the lessons I have learned, the joys I’ve had, and pains I have known can find their way into the pages I write. The scriptural truths God has used to keep me going as I’m being refined can be a source of encouragement for others who are going through their own refining process.
This is why God’s path to my destination looked so different from mine. This is why it had to take time. The story was not ready. I was not ready. I may have known where He was leading, but I couldn’t see why the path to get there was so long. I thank Him for each painful fall and strength sapping climb that has brought me to where I am today. I pray that as I continue along this path, I will hold tight to the lesson I have learned. It’s not simply His will. It has to be His will, His way.
By the Book: Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and consider what it means to say whole-heartedly “Your will be done”. Read the story of Abraham after God promised him a son. What happened when Abraham went after God’s will in his own way rather than God’s way?

Granny’s Way

Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan was my great-grandmother, and she was a force to be reckoned with when you came alongside her stubborn streak. Growing up, Granny told me stories and taught me to embroider and quilt. I was the favored one who could go through her souvenir handkerchief collection and her jewelry box whenever I wanted. But when it came to cleaning, even I ran into her iron will.

While cleaning her living room, Granny insisted I was vacuuming her floor incorrectly. What she wanted would take twice as long, serving no real purpose. I told her this, but it did me no good. Granny insisted her way was the only way. So, I did the only reasonable thing. I waited until Granny left the room and completed the task the way I had started it. Of course, Granny never found out I failed to complete my task her way.

Maybe we’re all a little like Granny sometimes. I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to write. As I experienced more writers, my desire to write grew. I wanted to do for others what my favorite authors did for me. As I matured in my relationship with God, I knew He wanted me to use whatever ability I had along with my passion for writing to minister to others. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew, but I knew.
You’d think there would be freedom and maybe joy in finding out what God has for you. Instead, I knew frustration. I couldn’t see why God would clearly show me the path I was to take but not let me live it out. Sure, God used my writing in my home town ministries. He used it when I taught Sunday school and summer camp classes. He used it when I wrote lessons for our youth group. God never stopped using my writing, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it or in the time frame I wanted it to be in. I was as set in my ideas as my Granny.

At times, I questioned. Had I misheard? Did God have something else for me to do? And if so, why would He have given me this overwhelming desire to minister through writing? In these times, I gave my dream back to Him. God was faithful to give it back with encouragement to keep going. He reaffirmed my path every time. I kept learning and growing, both as a writer and a believer.

What I thought would happen in my early twenties is finally coming to be in my early forties. In thirteen days my first novel, Faith’s Journey, releases. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see God moving this dream to fruition. But it’s more than that. God has given me an extra gift. He’s shown me why this didn’t happen before.

As do most twenty year olds, I had the world figured out. I had felt what I thought was the deepest depths of pain. I’d lost people I loved. I’d had disappointments. But in reality, I had only been refined in the flames of a candle, maybe a campfire, the kind you roast marshmallows on. Hot? Yes, but nothing compared to the heat and destruction of a raging wildfire. Child’s play when placed side by side with the fire needed to refine metals like iron.

It wasn’t until my late twenties and into my thirties that I experienced this type of refining. All my childhood lessons of faith became more necessary to life than I’d ever thought possible. They weren’t unimportant before that time, but after, I realized how much I took faith for granted. I needed God in a more tangible, undeniable way.

This new understanding grew my faith. It provided a deeper understanding of what it means to live by faith. My refining had nothing to do with my writing, and they didn’t have to change it. But as I dealt with these experiences in my life, I was shown something that has impacted my writing. Through other believers, I came to understand that I can hoard the things God has done in my life or I can share them. In sharing the pains, lessons, and joys, others can benefit as I have benefited from those who came before me.

I had a choice. God wouldn’t force the issue, but His desire was clear. Use what I experienced to minister to others. This doesn’t mean every circumstance I write is something that happened to me. Every character is not someone from my life. My novel is fiction. The people and situations are products of my imagination. But the lessons I have learned, the joys I’ve had, and pains I have known can find their way into the pages I write. The scriptural truths God has used to keep me going as I’m being refined can be a source of encouragement for others who are going through their own refining process.

This is why God’s path to my destination looked so different from mine. This is why it had to take time. The story was not ready. I was not ready. I may have known where He was leading, but I couldn’t see why the path to get there was so long. I thank Him for each painful fall and strength sapping climb that has brought me to where I am today. I pray that as I continue along this path, I will hold tight to the lesson I have learned. It’s not simply His will. It has to be His will, His way.

By the Book: Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and consider what it means to say whole-heartedly “Your will be done”. Read the story of Abraham after God promised him a son. What happened when Abraham went after God’s will in his own way rather than God’s way?

Beginning to End: The Journey

It never occurred to me that people don’t know how books get from an author’s mind to the bookstore. It sounds simple. Step one: Write a book. Step two: Get it published. Step three: Begin the sequel. If only it were that easy.

Even the writing is an exercise in patience and dedication. It starts with an idea. Maybe it’s a scripture, a place that draws a story out of you, or a situation that makes you wonder what comes next. Whatever the inspiration, it is the beginning of the journey. Some authors go from this point into a highly organized method of mapping out characters, settings, and plot lines before they begin typing the story. That’s not how I work. I don’t plan. I just sit down and write.

Whichever method is employed, there’s a lot of work in writing a book.  Authors have to move the plot along realistically, keep characters acting and reacting within their personalities and motivations, and create believable dialog and situations for the characters. Sometimes, an author gets stuck. The struggle to find the best words and actions to move the story in the desired direction can be frustrating. With perseverance, hopefully, the author finishes the story. Time to move on and start the sequel, right? Wrong.

Now remembering research lessons from school becomes important. Grabbing a computer with a good internet connection and the newest copy of the most suitable market guide, the author spends hours researching publishing houses and agents. When the most promising ones are found, the author researches the specifications for sending their manuscript to each one. Some want a query letter giving a brief synopsis of the story. Some want sample chapters. A few want the complete manuscript. They all want what they want, delivered in very particular ways down to length of submission and font size.

Once a publisher is found (either directly or after securing an agent), there are contracts to read and sign, rounds of edits to complete, the cover design process, and marketing plans to develop for the finished book. Even these steps contain multiple parts. It’s a long process from the idea to the shelf at your local book store. But the finished project makes the journey worth it.

That’s how it is with a lot of things in life. It’s a journey to get to the desired outcome. It’s good to remember this when we consider our spiritual lives. It seems a lot of people believe once they’ve accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection as the payment for their debt of sin, that’s all there is to it. Their sins are forgiven, and they can go about life as usual. But that isn’t what God calls us to.

Yes, God wants our relationship with Him restored through Jesus’ sacrifice. He loves us enough to offer us a way out of an eternity separated from Him. But the key word is relationship. God doesn’t just call us to be saved. He calls us into relationship. He calls us to be and make disciples. He calls us to live the way Jesus lived and to serve others as we “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).  He calls us to love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbors as ourselves. He calls us to be different, to be sanctified.

Sanctification is being set apart for a particular use or purpose, to be made holy. It is something God has done and is doing in those who follow Him. It is what He wants for us, and like many life-changing things, sanctification is a process that should continue throughout our lives.

When we accept God’s gift of salvation, it’s immediate. Scripture says we are a new creation and the old has passed away, but we don’t often live that way. Sometimes, we don’t even know what it means to be a new creation. The Spirit lives in us, guiding and empowering us, and living like Jesus is impossible without the Spirit’s help. As we spend time in God’s word, the Spirit teaches us more about what it means to be set apart for God’s purpose. Even with the Spirit strengthening us, the pull of our old ways of living can be strong. It takes time, effort, and God to help get us to the desired outcome. The process of learning to be who God made us to be is not easy, but don’t give up. The finished product makes it worth it.

By the Book: When did you last take the time to ask God what He wants for your life? Read Philippians 2, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, and Matthew 22:34-40. Ask God to show you how to become the person He made you to be.

Life Designed

Faiths JourneyFrom the first word to the last period, authors pour creative energy, time, and mental ability into each scene. They know their characters intimately, making relinquishing their work to an editor difficult. Beloved scenes could be drastically changed. Even waiting for cover designs can be brutal.

Creating characters and places from nothing, writers can tell you the backstory of each character even if it doesn’t end up in the book. They know what events shaped their characters’ behaviors. They have detailed physical images for each one in their minds. The writer knows every hair, freckle, and physical habit of their characters. Turning them over to the cover designer can bring on a case of nerves.

Will the designer understand the feeling of the story? Was the character described well enough to create the correct mental picture in the designer’s mind? Will the designer be able to create an image that draws prospective readers to pick the book up off the shelf?

A well-designed, interesting cover has drawn me to a book. Other covers have left me void of any interest in the book. So, when it was time to hand over Faith’s Journey to the cover designer, my excitement over growing closer to seeing my book in print was tempered by questions over whether or not the design would fit my expectations.

I shouldn’t have worried. The finished cover complemented the look and feel of the story and also the main character, Katie, better than I hoped. The background photo looks like it could have been taken in Katie’s back yard. The color scheme is perfect. Katie’s personality was captured in a single shot. My expectations and reality were perfectly balanced.

This isn’t always the case in publishing or in life. We have ideas of what our lives should look like and where the future will take us. We dream of perfect marriages and fulfilling careers. If life works the way we imagined, we live in peace. But that doesn’t happen often. Instead, we lose that promotion or marriage isn’t the fairy tale we hoped for. Maybe the parent we thought would always be there dies too soon. Or little ones we hoped would fill the rooms of our dream house with laughter are never born.

Whatever the disappointment, our dreams are washed away and replaced with a picture we didn’t expect. The colors are wrong, and our warm romance feels more like a cold psychological thriller. The temptation is to lash out at the One who let our dreams shatter, blame God for our hurts and disappointments. We tend to join Job’s wife in complaining against our circumstances rather than saying, with Job, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

Scripture is clear that because of sin’s effects in our world, even believers will face trials and troubles. But if we let Him work, God promises that He will work for our good in every circumstance. Consider Joseph. I doubt he dreamed of being attacked and sold as a slave by his family. And just when things started looking up, he gets wrongly accused of rape and thrown into prison.

Joseph could have harbored resentment toward God. The favored son never expected his life to turn out this way. But he didn’t. Instead, Joseph continued to serve God. He continued to use his God-given gift to help others, and God painted Joseph a new picture. At the right time, God worked out Joseph’s release from prison and placed him in favor with the pharaoh. Promoted to a place of importance in Egypt, Joseph was in the position to extend forgiveness to his family and save God’s people from drought.

It was a different picture than Joseph imagined for himself, but God’s picture was a more incredible work of art than Joseph could have accomplished on his own. It may be hard to see when we’re looking at the ruined remains of our dreams, but if we wait patiently, faithfully, one day we will see God has taken that canvas of our lives and created the perfect picture. We only have to trust the designer.

By the Book: Read the story of Joseph. Choose a meaningful verse from it or another encouraging promise of God. Write or type it onto a sheet of paper and add your own design to make a beautiful picture reminder of the work God is doing in your life.

Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, I’m surprised by the directions a character’s life will take them when I write. It doesn’t seem possible. I’m the one creating the character’s world. I should know what’s going to happen, but I’m often as surprised as the reader to find out where my characters are going. Once the characters develop, my direction becomes clear. But I usually don’t start with a plan.

I’ve been to enough writers’ conferences to understand most authors are not encouraged to work this way. Our stories should be planned out before writing the first word. Each little hiccup in the characters’ world is carefully planned to reach the next desired destination. The author uses these pre-planned hiccups to create questions and conflict that mirror real life for the characters. Just ask Audrey and Willard.

Living in Nebraska when Pearl Harbor is bombed, Audrey and Willard have plenty of life’s hiccups to contend with in Canteen Dreams by Cara Putman. Audrey wrestles with letting herself live life when fear, the unknown, and loss are being thrown in her face each day with the war. Being a woman, Audrey can’t serve in the military. Instead she gives herself completely to a canteen project to encourage the soldiers who are serving. It’s a great cause, but Audrey has to learn if she’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. It’s something that she loves, but what if God wants something different for her?

After his brother gives his life at Pearl Harbor, Willard feels pulled to serve against his father’s wishes. The more time he spends on the ranch, the less content he becomes. Even the joy of getting to know Audrey is tainted with his discontent. Like many men at that time, Willard struggles with feeling like he isn’t doing his part as he watches strangers and friends signing up to fight. Will God really ask him to stay home when his heart is in serving? How can he learn to accept it if that is God’s plan for him?

Finding peace, contentment, and joy are struggles for Audrey and Willard because their plans don’t seem to be connecting with God’s plan. This puts them in the hard place of surrender. While their story may be fiction, the difficulty of surrender is anything but fiction. We learn early to dream of and plan out our futures. We pair these desires with the truth the God loves us. In our limited and faulty understanding, we believe this means our dreams will be blessed by God and come true. We never stop to consider if they should.

God is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He sees the big picture. God gives us passions and dreams, but not all dreams are from Him. We start out chasing our dream, and then, the hiccups begin. Our path leads everywhere but to where our dream comes true. We struggle, holding tightly to our dream, knowing it has to be what God wants. It’s a good, worthy dream. Why God isn’t blessing it? We haven’t considered if our dream is God’s dream for us. We have to give our precious dream to God. It’s scary. He may not give it back. He may ask us to give it up in order to follow what He wants for us. Other times, we know the sweet feeling of God returning our dream with His blessing. Even then, the path may not be smooth. But if we keep seeking God, we will have hope. Soon, we may even see those hiccups were preparing us to live our dream in a better way than we ever hoped.

By the Book: Read Hebrews 11. It’s full of people who found the dreams God had for them looked a little different than they first imagined, but they followed in faith knowing His way was the best way. What dreams are you holding onto? Have you surrendered those dreams to God and asked Him to help you want His will above all else, even if it means giving up your dream?

What I’m Reading: The Silent Songbird

In 1996 the Magnificent Seven of USA Gymnastics inspired little girls everywhere to become gymnasts. Their spirit, determination, and gold medal performance were a joy to watch even before Keri Strugg’s epic vault. Watching as an adult, I couldn’t help reliving my own childhood fascination with the sport. Watching Olympic gymnasts as a little girl, I wanted to join their ranks. I dreamed of one day standing on a podium, accepting an Olympic medal.

There was a hitch in my plan. I had never been in gymnastics. That could be remedied. I have no balance, rhythm, or grace. Those are not so easily overcome. Besides, there was one more issue preventing my Olympic career. I am not built like a gymnast. Growing up, I was thin as a rail and very tall. I was always one of the tallest girls in class. In fact, I was taller than most of the boys. I was much taller than your average gymnast. I was simply not made for a career in gymnastics though I often dreamed of what it would be like to live that life.

The desire to be someone else, to live another life, is one theme in Melanie Dickerson’s The Silent Songbird. Promised to a less than savory man who happens to have the necessary social standing to earn her hand, Evangeline longs to be able to marry for love like those of the servant class. Desperate to escape her circumstances, she pretends to be a mute servant in order to run from her home and unwanted suitor.

As is often the case when we are less than truthful, things don’t work out as smoothly as Evangeline hopes. Written as a retelling of the Little Mermaid, part of Evangeline’s journey is to find out who she is meant to be. Her dreams are complicated when her past and present collide. Evangeline fears the truth will ruin her future chance at love, but she is challenged to trust God with the outcome and accept who He made her to be.

Dickerson does a fantastic job rewriting this classic tale. Not a strict retelling in the details, Evangeline’s story mirrors the themes of the original. Evangeline’s struggles to be who she was created to be also serve as a reminder for each of us. God didn’t just randomly put you on this earth. It wasn’t chance that gave you the DNA that makes you special. Your personality, looks, interests, all of you is intentional. Psalm 139 tells us God planned us before we were conceived. He took time to make you just like you are. He didn’t do it for kicks. He did it for a reason. A survey of all the faithful believers in scripture shows us how God weaves together all of our unique qualities to achieve His purposes in our lives. And we don’t have to worry about whether or not we will like His plan. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that His plan is to give us hope and a future. When we accept God’s plan for our lives and live the way He instructs us to in His Word, He can and will do amazing things through us for eternity.

By the Book: Read the story of Esther. What unique traits did God give her? How did those traits help her achieve what God had for her? Consider those things that make you who you are. How might God want to use those in your life to impact others for Him?

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